June 19, 2015

Bootprint in mud

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

One of the age-old backpacking credos is “take only photographs and leave only footprints” and, while I am not exactly sure who first coined the phrase, it is easy to remember reading about that ethic in outdoor magazines and books when first starting to backpack in the early 80s.  Here in the 21st century, there are those who strongly advocate for the “leave no trace” philosophy and argue against the leaving of footprints as well.  The concern is that the impact causes erosion and trail degradation, especially in heavily used areas.  It is also worth mentioning the aesthetic compromise brought about by numerous footprints.  Of course, one solution to that is to keep your eyes up and not look down.

Bootprints and soda bottle in mud

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Footprints aside, a bigger problem are the other reminders of the human presence that are left behind.  The following photographs provide a bit of irony as the artifacts are those that generally would have been used to make the prints in the first place.

Lone flipflop at the base of a rock

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.


Lone sock in the mud

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.


Children's lone Spiderman shoe left behind in the grass

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This notion of leaving a footprint has many, much larger, implications for the environment.  One of those would be the carbon footprint, which is created by the daily activities of our lifestyles. CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases driving climate change and the current level is 403.94 ppm as described here-this reflects a continuing increase in the global level. This link provides an animated graph that demonstrates the rise of CO2 beginning 800,000 years ago, when the level was 278 ppm, until January 2014.  It is worth a watch as the movement of the graph can create an impact that simply reading numbers does not.

There are many different “carbon footprint calculators” available on the web: two of which are from The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Protection Agency.  If interested, please click the links and read the directions as these are one way of getting an approximation of the amount of CO2 produced by individuals.  Reducing personal carbon footprints is one way of lessening the overall impact of carbon emissions, which brings us to this important point:  reducing the amount of CO2 for which each of us is responsible is one of the areas in which we have control over our environmental impact.  I often hear folks say “I am just one person, what difference can I make?”  If each person makes an effort, and then that effort is multiplied by millions, a difference can be made.  That difference starts with one person.

Having said that, it is also true the pressure needs to be brought to bear on a governmental level.  The United Nations Climate Change Conference will in Paris, France later this year-more information about that is available at the link.  Perhaps this will be the year when an enforceable agreement is reached.  That will only happen if individual countries recognize that it is the collective best interest of the planet to reduce greenhouse gases.

And that brings me to the final point.  Pope Francis recently issued a papal letter describing climate change as an humanitarian issue as the impact often falls disproportionately on the poor and least developed nations.  That is an important point.  It is also worth noting that within the United States over the past few years, the effects of climate change and sea-level rise have been felt in some of the most affluent parts of the country:  the now four-year drought in California and the impact of SuperStorm Sandy on New York are examples.

That final point?  No one is immune from the footprint of climate change.

Take care.

Update:  NPR posted this report today regarding truck CO2 emissions.

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